14
Oct
10

Art for arts sake…

We’re a creative bunch, and sometimes it’s fun to just make something – hat tip to Alex McDowell, who’s presently part of our successful apprenticeship programme for the design work.

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27
Sep
10

Whose space?

Over the last two years myspace.com has gone from 43 billion page views to 12 billion, and from 125 million unique visitors to 95 million. These numbers are a reflection of many different factors; but this coming October we will see a new and improved myspace. Or so one would hope, but things aren’t looking good. This week we hear the news that Vice President of Communications Tracy Akselrud has jumped ship less than a month before the anticipated re-launch. She isn’t the first high ranking myspace executive to have left during recent months – and I dare say she won’t be the last.

It seems that as the users drop away and abandon the site, so do the people who run it. This re-launch will either bring new life to the site and revive it or kill it off completely. The reason that I left myspace was that there was too much choice, too much variation from page to page, some profiles were difficult for my computer to load and it became an all round chore. It seemed even more arduous when you had Facebook’s simple and clear uniform style to compare it to. That’s where it seems to fall down: their product simply isn’t as good as that of their competitors’, it became too complicated and too much like hard work. That’s why myspace went from being the dominating force in the social media landscape to falling down a steep decline in popularity.

With the re-launch I hope that myspace will lean towards what it’s good at and not try to be all things to all men. Where I think myspace does a good job and always has, is providing a good platform for bands and unsigned musicians to promote themselves. If myspace has a future, I think it’s there.

The relaunch is set for October, so we don’t have long to wait and see what they plan to do; but it can’t be a good sign that another top myspace exec has left the company less than a month beforehand.

24
Sep
10

Jumbo Jumo

At the Mashable and 92Y Social Good Summit, Chris Hughes spoke to his audience about the new social networking site he is developing, Jumo. Chris Hughes, a former co-founder of Facebook, is developing the site to connect people with non-profit-making charitable organisations. The site is intended to have the infrastructure to allow the user to find, follow and support different charities around the world.

Hughes believes it’s difficult for people to actively support charities  as there is no central facility where you can find the right charity for you to support, and then maintain a relationship with is  – Jumo is planned to do just that.

Although there are no other apparent sites which have all the functions that Jumo proposes to have, there are sites which house a wide range of charities enabling you to donate online –  such as charitychoice.co.uk. However, they lack the ability to maintain a personal relationship with the charity. Maybe the collaboration of these three functions, currently missing from online donation websites, will increase the amount raised for organisations  in need in both the short and long term.

The only obvious drawback is that small charities fare disproportionately badly on combination sites: their lack of size and public awareness means that the larger, more well known charities (or more popular causes) can make more effective use of them.

Hughes is also the former director of online organising for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and based on his experience, the site should be a success. He used the example of the Haiti disaster in January, saying that $31 million of the $1.3 billion raised was donated through text message donations. Despite this being a small proportion of the total raised, it is still a handsome sum. To me,  this level of donations through mobile technology, a social medium, implies the site should be a success – for larger charities, at least.

22
Sep
10

The City maketh the culture

If you’re very blunt cities are just a collection of buildings, roads and infrastructure where people happen to live and work; they’re essentially just a theatrical backdrop to the daily dramas of each individual’s life – but I like to think they’re more than that.

Cities aren’t just backdrops, they define cultures and movement, some much more so than others. For years certain cities have grabbed their denizens and shown them the lights, whether it be London, Berlin, Köln, New York, Paris or Florence the greatest artistic, political and cultural movements have sprung forth from the cities that spin their inhabitants like whirling dervishes into creative thought and action.

Take the naturalistic beauty of Florence; this is a city that has inspired generations of not just artists, but real masters. You think of Florence and you think of the whole Florentine School cabal which – amongst others – gave us Donatello, Botticelli, Masaccio and Michelangelo; and to this day artists flock to Florence to be inspired, to take in the winsome tuscan countryside, the exquisite architecture and the delicate palette of colours, smells and tastes that float through every Florentine street and piazza.

Or consider the roaring seething orgy that still is Berlin – through generations this city has inspired biting satire, political activism and an art scene that could only be described as brutally honest portrayals of the world around them. Politically this is the city that saw the rise of Communism and National Socialism in the 30s, during the cold war it saw political activism like nowhere else with a plethora of strong protest groups and even today real dissent and anti-government feeling ferments with activists still keeping Angela Merkel’s coalition quite firmly on its toes. Artistically, this political melting pot drives the art scene, from the vicious social commentary of George Grosz or Kathe Kollwitz to the glorious revelry in the debauchery of the cocaine fuelled metrosexual nightclubs as portrayed by Otto Dix; and more recently the free-wheeling poor but sexy Berlin as captured so marvellously in my opinion in the joyous canvases of Ann-Kristin Hamm.

London again twists its inhabitants, the driving ever-changing scene in London opens new doors every day; one person’s crap is another person’s treasure, from the decaying East End of the 1980   that inspired the mega-canvases of multi-cultural faces in Gilbert & Georges seminal work ‘Are you angry, or are you bored’ to the gawking polemic on Britain’s celebrity obsessed culture embodied so well in Damien Hirst’s ‘For the love of God’ (better known as the diamond encrusted skull). Over and over again London like Florence or Berlin has allowed a level of expression that no other city in its shadow could foster. It’s taken in the waifs and strays and given them a canvas to play with: and that – that – is why we love our cities.

Vivid London – it’s not just a name: it defines us, the city we’re based in hones our approach. Life should be Vivid, and London inspires us. It truly is a vivid city; the cultures, languages, art, theatre, cinema, architecture, the whole simmering mass is exciting to be in – and because of that creative thought thrives.

15
Sep
10

New Twitter is here…

New Twitter has arrived, and it’s said by it’s creators to be “An easier, faster and richer experience”. The new format will be rolled out over the coming weeks, so many of us will have to wait before finding out if any of that is true. We can however certainly form a fair idea based on the information readily available on www.twitter.com/newtwitter.

The new Twitter will consist of a split page. On the left will be the usual stream of tweets that we’re all used to and on the right your profile is laid out in detail, as are trends, lists and favorites. The most noticeable and useful thing about the new layout is that accessing the information in a tweet is apparently even easier than before. Say for instance somebody tweets a picture, you’ll be able to click the tweet, and the image will appear in the panel on the right hand side, along with any other comments. You’ll also be able to watch video in the same way.

The reason for these changes seems to be keeping the user in one place; instead of having to navigate away from the page or open a new window, you’ll be able to view all pictures and videos on your Twitter homepage. This certainly does sound far easier to use and you would imagine it to be quicker than loading a new page every time you want to view some tweeted information. However it also seems like an awful lot of information to have readily available on one page and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of browsers and computers struggle with it.

Technical worries aside, as for as I’m concerned the new Twitter seems to be a great improvement: it’s taking a step from being a portal through which you can navigate to information, to being a more complete social networking site that you can quite simply do more with. It seems to me to be a natural progression; there might be technical hiccups along the way, but I for one am excited to see how this pans out and where the site goes in future.

Alex McDowall

14
Sep
10

There is no such thing as Scandinavian design

If we take Scandinavia to include the mainland of the Nordic region (excluding Iceland and Åland), there is a persistent view through the media that Scandinavian design is a consistent and homogeneous design culture and ethos which leads to a consistent and homogeneous design product.

It isn’t true. It’s a construct of the need to find a convenient label, much like there is meant to be such a thing as ‘middle eastern cooking’ or an ‘English accent’.

Despite the laudable efforts of such firms as the new pan-Scandinavian design firm Muuto (from muutos, ‘new perspective’ in Finnish: muuto.com) which is intentionally bringing designers together from across the region, the concept of Scandinavian design itself needs to be deconstructed.

Here’s why. Historically, the four nations of Scandinavia have spent their time dominating, or being dominated by, each other. The Danes and the Swedes were on top (intermittently, of each other); the Norwegians and the Finns underneath, though the Finns as a Russian archduchy did have a degree of freedom the Norwegians did not. The historical picture is therefore informed by the desire of two nations to spread their culture – and of two others determined to build up theirs under the pressure of others.

The assimilation of foreign styles, and making something unique of them (Gustavian neo-classicism in Sweden, the National Romantic Style in Finland, the assimilation and use of Schleswig architecture in southern Denmark, for instance) provides a concrete backdrop to national difference. The way architectural and visual design styles were used, particularly in Finland and Norway, not to identify the nation with the wider world (as they are in Denmark and Sweden, for instance) but to identify them as something other, something different and unique, continues to inform the design ethos of the various countries in many ways.

If the view of the outside world of Scandinavian design is blond people making beech furniture, then it is equally easy to stereotype – though with a greater degree of accuracy – the various nations (spoiler alert – wild generalisations imminent).

Danish style is actually the one people in the outside world, the influence of IKEA notwithstanding, think of as being ‘Scandinavian’. Human proportions, clean lines, whites, greys and blacks with some silver and red as an accent colour. Precisely engineered, beautifully thought out, intensely practical. (en.ddc.dk)

The design of Norway comes across much as its people do – thoughtful, ecological, distinctly different – and frequently quirky. In fact, this sense of humour, almost Italian in its approach, is one of the most striking features. (norskdesign.no)

As for the Finns, they design their products to fit their country – though they do have something truly unique in the rya rug. Finnish design is closer to Danish, though they won’t like me for saying so – its preoccupations are the same, but with more of a stress on the use of wood and glass, and a move in colours away from the greys of Denmark to whites, light colours and wood tones. (designforum.fi)

Sweden is interesting. IKEA seems to have sent the product design industry into a bit of a spin – taking their cues more from their history than their present, Swedish design seems to be trying to find its feet as its ideas, and its talent, are increasingly plucked to make some kind of affordable mélange which whilst practical, lacks the intensity of workmanship and attention to usability that, ultimately, is the mark of design excellence. (svenskform.se)

Four countries. Four histories, deeply intertwined – but four clear and distinct design cultures, informed by that history, by geography and personality. Paul Simpson, in his Summer 2009 piece for the British Design Council (designcouncil.org.uk), makes the argument clear, by making it more complex. His ‘Myths of Scandinavian Design’ include ‘Myth 1: There is such a thing as Scandinavian design’ – followed soon after by ‘Myth 5: There is no such thing as Scandinavian design’.

You can’t have it both ways. Spend enough time in the countries of Scandinavia and it becomes clear: there is design in Scandinavia, some of the best in the world. It’s just that there is no design of Scandinavia, but instead four unique and independent design worlds which cross over and cross fertilise – but which ultimately stand on their own.

scandinavian design

10
Sep
10

Has Mr Murdoch scored a spectacular own goal?

MacBook Pro displaying The Times website.I’m an avid Times reader, from the headlines to the Cricket, and I’m especially rabid if there’s a new restaurant revue, or an opinion leader from Giles Coren, A.A.Gill, Jeremy Clarkson or Alpha Mummy.

It’s been almost five years since I had a regular subscription to a newspaper delivered to my house and, if I’m honest, quite a lot of that had something to do with The Times moving to the horrific tabloid layout that’s plagued its paper version ever since. I’m now a digital reader – I rarely buy a newspaper in print form, unless I’m travelling or fancying an idyllic weekend curled up with tea, papers and good books; something my iPhone and my obsessive e-mail checking syndrome almost always curtails.

As a digital reader I enjoyed Times Online, it wasn’t quite as pretty as the Guardian, or quite as interactive as the FT, but when it was redesigned I started to get excited. The layout was clean, easy to navigate and retained a certain sense that you’re reading news rather than just seeing news between a hundred flashing adverts, social media side bars and endless inane comments; but then along came Paywall Day.

Some predicted it would be like all the lights going out (you won’t be able to survive without it), others (sneakily calling themselves the majority) thought otherwise, but a month and a bit in, the Paywall hasn’t destroyed The Times, at least not yet.

The most obvious change was that the amount of articles, carrying significant amounts of user generated comment, dropped dramatically; the blame americans/europeans/arabs/the left (delete as applicable) ramblers and loons have been silenced, replaced instead by people that understand the importance of an argument and capital letters. Threaded comment system has also made it possible to engage users directly, resulting in branch topics and a real ability to pull up those who haven’t thought their comments through or are, in your opinion, just plain wrong.

The quality of the articles has also increased – almost all feature pieces have video, photo galleries and associated stories surrounding them; something that the previous incarnation of the site used to struggle with, So it’s here that I’m seeing the real value of the subscription; The Times is now regularly rivalling the BBC on the integrated nature of its copy, and that can only be an improvement to the often trivialised articles that appear as fillers on other news sites.

So it’s all good? Well not quite. There’s no denying, it’s a quieter site than it used to be – there’s still a significant amount of similar content available free elsewhere, and it’s clear that The Times is going to have to work hard to get people into its site. What is interesting is that with the exception of the initial trial period when the website launched there’s now no sample, no tasters, no giveaways – nothing, nadda, zip. If you want the Times, great, if you’re not sure they give no reasons to reassure. It’s this lack of a reason to buy that I think is their main barrier to increased subscription sales; only time will tell if Murdoch’s real conviction that content should be paid for acts as a limiter or an enabler for The Times. What is for certain is that other than rumours that other News International publications might follow, The Times is currently standing alone on the shoreline, and only time will tell if the tide washes over them or they change it’s direction.




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